Belfast Telegraph

I'll take Northern Ireland's real politics over the liberals' dreams

By Gail Walker

For decades, we've looked for leadership in Northern Ireland. It seems to me we have found it. I am not one of those – if any exist – who wandered blithely into the nostrums of the peace process. I doubt, in fact, if there is a single person in Northern Ireland who didn't, hadn't, hasn't and does not still have grave, hurting reservations about the whole thing.

Most who do have reservations hold opinions and express them in their darkest hours which would make the designer angst of a Joe Brolly or the humpy obstructionism of a Mervyn Gibson seem like the bleatings of a rural parson in the Home Counties worrying about a leaking roof for the Christmas nativity play.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the public hand-wringing of public figures represents the true barometer of vexed opinion on our version of Peace.

For what it's worth, I have problems with the IRA, past, present and future, if such a future comes to pass. I have problems also with a nationalism which threatens one of the few things that gives meaning to leading a civic life here – my identity, my culture as I understand it, my forbears and the heritage they gave me, which is no mean thing. These things count.

But I also have problems with unionism. I have never aligned with militant loyalism in any fashion. I am drawn to the conventional symbols of who and what I am, but have been frustrated by factionalism and heel-digging which has too often been a feature of unionism.

I have problems with Martin McGuinness, for the obvious reasons of which he himself has been well aware. But I've had problems with Peter Robinson (below) and the DUP – suggestions of double-talk, and a susceptibility to the bigotry of the street.

But also there are vast tracts of a shared culture which I've felt excluded from by nationalism and republicanism by reason of violence and ambition and also by political unionism by reason of political expedience and the charge of Lundyism.

Just as many Catholics and republicans have found a new character to their heritage through reflection on family history and shared communal experiences, whether in the big wars, or recovery of the mixed marriage context of so many families, so I know many Protestants and unionists have found new dimensions to identity and a renewed sense of belonging through shared experiences.

Michaela McAreavey, in recent times; Seamus Heaney more recently. And for those of us with religious faith, there has been a valued rapprochement between the churches which is binding, acknowledging, affirming.

These are important. But I'll keep saying this: I am confident in the current formula for peace and its process. Robinson's speech to the GAA was a great speech. It articulated an intelligent, brave, realistic approach which unionists must understand and which, also, describes a real path for nationalists and republicans also in terms of our peace.

There wasn't much in it which didn't in fact apply equally to the ambitions of nationalists. It recognised the challenges, it described the obstacles, it didn't stint on self-criticism, or criticism of republican and loyalist heel-digging. It was leadership.

It was also largely ignored by the so-called liberal media and pundits who still hanker dangerously after a polity which has never and will never exist in Northern Ireland, their own fantasy world of marginal, privileged middle-class wishful-thinking, where people who believe in nothing too deeply get to make the decisions affecting the rest of us who do.

It is, paradoxically, that tier of opinion which poses a greater risk to our peace process than the thuggish bigots who seek to disrupt, maim and kill. Why? Because the shrieking background noise from so-called liberals, sneering at McGuinness and Robinson, give succour and validity to the beasts among us.

There is no validity. What we have now is that thing called politics. This is what it looks and sounds like. Suck it up and shut up. Keep your views on minor issues to yourselves. The big game is under way.

The people have endorsed it at the ballot box and the idea that there is some other weird democracy – a democracy which has no mandate, no leaders, no voters, no parties, no point and no policy but resentment, dislike and the frustration of popular abandonment and an armful of university degrees – is dangerous.

It wouldn't matter, ordinarily. It's just that this malign alliance between the pundits and the thugs has its victims, too.

The rest of us.

Belfast Telegraph


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